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THE BODY OF THINGS: Gender, Material Culture and Design in (Post)Soviet Russia

An interdisciplinary conference, Aarhus University, Denmark, March 8-9 2018

Info about event


Thursday 8 March 2018, at 13:30 - Friday 9 March 2018, at 17:00


Aarhus University, Richard Mortensen Stuen, Studenternes Hus, build. 1422 - Fredrik Nielsens Vej 2, 8000 Aarhus C

Mikhail Kopylkov, “Pink Dress and Autumn Coat,” chamotte, salts, glazes, metal, 1976

The conference is a part of the research program “Cultural Transformations” at the School of Communication and Culture and the research program in Global Studies at the School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University.





Since the late 1990s, the social sciences and the humanities have reconsidered the relations between discourse and materiality and between humans and non-humans, including things. At the same time, scholars of the Soviet Union and its successor states have demonstrated increasing interest in material culture, everyday life and gender. We propose that recent theoretical paradigms such as new materialism, object-oriented ontology, material feminisms, thing theory and others can be useful tools for elucidating complex interrelations between politics, everyday life and professional cultures in the 20th century Russia. This conference initiates a dialogue among scholars of Soviet and post-Soviet history and culture dealing with body and crafts, gender and design, DIY and subjectivity, and related topics.

In the 1920s Liubov’ Popova and Varvara Stepanova famously turned a traditional “feminine craft” of textile into industrial design, or, according to another interpretation, into high art: two areas usually perceived as “masculine.” Speaking of the “Thaw” era, the curators of the recent exhibition in the Museum of the History of Moscow viewed open urban spaces, fashionable semi-transparent clothes from synthetic fabrics, international festivals and exhibitions as interconnected elements of the new mode of life. Taking these two examples as inspirations, researchers from different disciplines and with various methodological toolkits will rethink the narratives of (post)Soviet material culture, gender, and design.



8 March 2018, Thursday

13:30-14:00                                                      Get to think: Welcome and conference opening  
14.00 - 15.00   Keynote talk by Anke Hennig, University of the Arts Berlin and Central Saint Martins College, London. The Speculative Design of Gender - Revolutionary, Soviet and Post-Soviet Dimensions
15:15 - 16:45  

Panel 1: Women as Designers and Producers

Chair: Yulia Karpova, Aarhus University

  • A new wave of women: the formation of a professional identity by women designers in the USSR in the 1960-80s. Alyona Sokolnikova, Moscow Design Museum and British Higher School of Art and Design, Moscow
  • A Gender of Russian ‘Folk’: the Gender Dimension of Traditional Arts and Crafts Production. Varvara Kobyshcha, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow
  • Runway collections and competition in Soviet fashion market.” Iuliia Papushina, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Perm
17:00 - 18:00     Keynote talk by Graham H. Roberts, Université Paris Nanterre. Queering the Stitch: Fashion, Masculinity and the Post-Socialist Body

9 March 2018, Friday

9.00 - 10.30                                                             

Panel 2: Embodied Labor and DIY

Chair: Olga Gurova, Aalborg University  

  • His hands are golden!’: Russian Masculinities and Technical Expertise in the Post-Soviet Era. Marina Yusupova, Newcastle University 
  • Red DIY: Soviet Menstrual Innovations and the Moral Supremacy of Socialism. Pavel Vasilyev, The Polonsky Academy for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
  • The narratives of hardship and glory: gender dimensions of stoneworking in Northwestern Russia. Anna Varfolomeeva, Central European University, Budapest 
11.00 - 12.00      Keynote talk by Christina Kiaer, Northwestern University: Revolution Every Day: Early Soviet Posters and the Propagandizing of Women
12:00- 13:00   Lunch break  

Materialities of Soviet (Post-)Avant-Garde

Chair: Birgitte Beck Pristed, Aarhus University  

  • From the Earth to the Sky: evolution of women’s images in Vera Mukhina’s art. Elena Yushkova, independent scholar
  • Repetition And Difference: Avant-Garde Heritage In The Belarusian Poster Of 60-70-s. Alla Pigalskaya, European Humanities University, Vilnius
  • The Soviet Underground outcrops: a Transitional Field of Contemporary Art in Early Post-Soviet Press. Margarita Kuleva, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow 
15.00 - 16.00          

Panel 3: Soviet Everyday Materialism

Chair: Jeremy Morris, Aarhus University  

  • Pleated Byt: The faktura of everyday life from Soviet agitational textiles to Irina Nakhova’s surface installations. Gabriella Ferrari, Princeton University
  • Sincerity in the Material World: Iurii Trifonov Confronts Consumerism. Benjamin Sutcliffe, Miami University 
16.15 - 17.00            Final discussion  



This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 700913